“On 21 February, the Kremlin announced that Russia revised its Arctic policy by removing mentions of the Arctic Council, stressing the need to prioritize Russian Arctic interests, and striving for greater self-reliance for its Arctic industrial projects.”
The Arctic Council, founded in 1996, lists its members as Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. The position of Arctic Council president rotates between member states, and though the Council currently has a Russian president, other members of the Council have refused to meet in his presence in response to the war in Ukraine. Underscoring the schism, the Council also recently met without its current president presiding and accepted a Canadian counterclaim to Arctic territory that is also claimed by Russia.[i] As the excerpted article from independent Norwegian news source High North News indicates, Russia has effectively pulled out of the Arctic Council as a result of the Council’s actions and will now pursue its interests in the Arctic through bilateral relations and self-reliance. Russia’s decision increases the chance of further political conflict in the Arctic that could lead to a physical confrontation between Russia and Arctic Council member states.
Malte Humpert, “Russia Amends Arctic Policy Prioritizing ‘National Interest’ and Removing Cooperation Within Arctic Council,” High North News (independent newspaper published by the High North Center at Nord University, Bodo, Norway). 23 February 2023. https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/russia-amends-arctic-policy-prioritizing-national-interest-and-removing-cooperation-within-arctic
On 21 February, the Kremlin announced that Russia revised its Arctic policy by removing mentions of the Arctic Council, stressing the need to prioritize Russian Arctic interests, and striving for greater self-reliance for its Arctic industrial projects. The hopes for cooperation with Russia in the Arctic continue to cool. Days after a U.S. diplomat stated that cooperation with Russia in the Arctic was now virtually impossible, the Kremlin published amendments to its Arctic policy. President Putin signed the decree on 21 February. The updated document places greater emphasis on Russian national interests in the region and removes specific mentions for cooperation within the Arctic Council.
While the original policy, published in March 2020, called for the “strengthening of good neighborly relations with the Arctic states” in the fields of economic, scientific, cultural and cross-border cooperation the amended version removes the above section and instead calls for the “development of relations with foreign states on a bilateral basis, “taking into account the national interests of the Russian Federation in the Arctic.”
The amended text also removes mentions of “the framework of multilateral regional cooperation formats, including the Arctic Council, the coastal Arctic “five” and the Council of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region.”
In the original policy the section on international cooperation, placed significant emphasis on work within “multilateral regional cooperation formats” for the purpose of building up economic, scientific and technological, as well as cultural cooperation. It did not make any mention of prioritizing Russian national interests. In contrast, the wording of the revised document now places the country’s national interests in the Arctic ahead of work towards economic, scientific and technological, and cultural cooperation. Just last week, U.S. military leaders emphasized that the Arctic was now Russia’s number one priorityThe updated version also places a greater emphasis on Russian self-reliance in the region. It calls for ensuring “import independence of the shipbuilding complex,” clearly a response to western sanctions which have affected Russia’s ability to order and purchase ice-capable gas and oil tankers at foreign shipyards.The amended version of the policy calls for the” development and modernization of shipbuilding and ship repair facilities for the construction and maintenance of ships navigating in the waters of the Northern Sea Route. “In terms of energy supply for population centers and industrial facilities along the NSR the policy now calls for the use of domestically built “low-power nuclear power plants.” The first such facility, the floating nuclear power plant Akademik Lomonosov was towed through the Baltics and up the Norwegian coastline in 2018 to the Arctic town of Pevek to supply electrical power and residential heat.
[i] For more additional information about the Canadian claim on the Lomonosov Ridge see: Les Grau, “Canada Makes Additional Claims to Arctic Territory Claimed by Russia,” OE Watch, 02-2023.